Column: The Lakeland Center, where 3-pointers go to die



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Wed. February 29, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: The Lakeland Center, where 3-pointers go to die

LAKELAND — When Shorecrest couldn’t find the range from 20 feet Tuesday night, the Chargers tried it from 21.

Then 22, 25, 27.

The Lakeland Center, where teams that generally shoot the 3-pointer successfully and with reckless abandon go to be humbled, sighed.

Almost no one, no one, shoots the 3 at the Lakeland Center without walking away shaking his head, like Johnny Koenig was doing afterward.

Before Tuesday, the Chargers junior had seen his team shoot from pretty much anywhere past halfcourt and make them — and win.

But in the Class 3A state semifinal against Weston Sagemont?

Twenty-six 3-point shots.

Two went in.

No team in recent Florida High School Athletic Association history has ever shot so many, and made so few.

“That was tough,” he said.

It always is in Lakeland.

Austin Rivers hits game winners for Duke, but last year he missed all five of his 3-pointers in a semifinal, and made just 3 of 11 in the final.

Brandon Knight is in the NBA now, but he missed all of his 3s in a semifinal and made only two in the state championship game in 2009.
Gibbs shot 1-for-10 last year.

Tampa Catholic shot the 3-pointer 26 times last year, making just four.

Lake Wales shot 3-for-18.

Dr. Phillips made 3-of-29 in two games.

The list goes on and on and on, teams showing up in Lakeland and struggling with the depth perception of the 8,178-seat arena.

So for a team that made 217 long balls this season, or seven a game, accounting for more than one-third of its points all season, the Lakeland Center was a death trap.

Ironically, here’s a list of the teams that shot five or fewer 3s since 2007 (excluding 2009; stats were not available): Orlando Christian Prep and Sagemont twice each, Tampa Prep, Bartow, Grandview Prep, Arlington Country Day and Dillard.

None of those teams lost.

But that was never an option for the Chargers; nor should it have been.

“Shorecrest basketball never stops shooting,” Koenig said. “Never stops.”

The Lions, last year’s 2A champs, knew this. So they left the middle open and took away everything else. They came out to the 3-point line and started playing defense right there.

When Shorecrest missed early and often, it led to easy points for the Lions. When Shorecrest wasn’t missing shots, it was turning the ball over, leading to dunks and transition baskets that the Chargers were helpless to stop.

Shorecrest missed all 12 of its 3-pointers in the first half, and most of those barely drew iron, uncommon shooting for Tampa Bay’s best sharpshooters.

The Chargers missed their first 16 of the game.

It took 22 minutes and six seconds before  Luke Blume finally made the first one.

He missed the other 11 he put up.

“The defense was really good,” said Ricky Quiroz, who made 1 of 8. “I don’t feel like I had a good, open shot all night.”

While it was surprising the Chargers struggled so much, considering that they did, it was not surprising at all that they lost.

The pregame report was simple: Shorecrest makes its 3s, and it’s in the game. It doesn’t, and it won’t be.

“That’s our game,” said coach Daryl Blume. “You don’t tell shooters to quit shooting.”

Blume is right.

Don’t blame him.

Don’t blame his team.

This is what they do, and it was good enough this season to win 23 games, including a district title, and three playoff games, and it got the program to its first final four.

But on one night, it wasn’t good enough.

In Lakeland, it never is.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com.


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